Positive Psychology and Youth Development

Numerous researchers (Ryff & Keyes, 1995), Peterson, Park and Seligman (2005), and Keyes (2009) have found that young people reported having more developed feelings of emotional well-being than they did a sense of psycholical well-being.  Keyes’ central question became; “is it ok for children to feel happy, but rarely challenged, and frequently disconnected?” Keyes’ question is central to out times. He called for youth programs that both challenge (at the short-term expense of hedonic well-being) and support adolescents to grow. Academic achievement, community involvement, and good inter-personal relationships all require hard work and attention. We have seen from Flow Theory (see posting) that when one is passionate and absorbed in an activity, one becomes more excited and intrinsically motivated to pursue future goals. Research supports that the longer, and more frequent, an adolescent engages in an activity, the more resilient he or she becomes (Barber et al. 2009).

Research on Positive Youth Developmemt (PYD) supports a strengths based approach to supporting adolescent growth potential. By focusing on strengths (as opposed to limitations) PYD programs have shown increase for adolescents in happiness, mental health, and academic success (wood, et al. 2011). Certainly, families, organizations and communities can support platforms that enable individual strengths to manifest. Research by Lerner (2007) indicates that the character strengths of competence, confidence, character, connection, and caring are central to adolescent well-being. In addition, Schmid et al. (2011) proved that utilizing the strengths of goal setting in combination with hope for the future, led to positive trajectories for middle school aged youth.

The more we can offer young people appropriate challenges, and suppor them to grow, the more likely they will be to develop their own individual strengths, and disply them in the future. This sequence creates an “upward spiral” (Fredrickson) of positive emotions, as well as developing more confident, and competent youth.

Pete Thompson, Ed.S., BCC, is a board certified Life Coach with over 30 years of experience working with adolescents and young adults in the fields of human development and sport psychology. He has worked with Fortune 500 companies, future Olympians, collegiate, club, and high school students and staff since 1988, and has taught courses for four colleges and universities. He has a private Life Coaching practice in Rochester, NY, and also throughout the U.S.A.